“It’s surreal.  It doesn’t feel real!” GO Scholar Bella Kiernan is coming up for air after a Year 12 that extracted every skerrick of stamina from final year students everywhere.  “The HSC exams were easily the most stressful 4 weeks of my life,” she says. “I only got through it with the help of my wonderful teachers, my family, and GO staying in touch with me throughout everything.”

A student at Chifley College Mount Druitt, on Dharruk land, Bella has held lots of leadership roles at school, including Indigenous leader.  2020 though has been everything but a normal Year 12. “We didn’t even have a formal. Our year group got together and voted against it,” Bella explains, “The year started great.  We went on a leadership camp, and I got to know everyone and extend my friendship group. Then corona came to Australia and that was so disappointing.”

Bella floundered at first with the sudden shift to remote learning during Covid-19. “I like learning at school, and it’s very difficult for me to learn at home, because home is just a really busy place,” she says.  “After a couple of weeks of being distracted, I told myself that I needed find a way to focus if I was to stay on track. So, I moved in with my sister and her husband and their dog. I could concentrate on my studies there, and things got a lot better.

“My dream is to become a vet and I’ve always wanted to be a wildlife conservationist.  It’s a role that’s particularly important in this era of global warming,” she says. “I’m hoping to go to Sydney University to study a Bachelor of Science and Advanced Studies in Wildlife Conservation with Taronga Zoo.”

Apart from her lifelong love of animals, it’s passion that was stoked during a culture and mentoring day for GO scholars. “An Indigenous zookeeper from Taronga yarned with us, and she was so inspiring,” says Bella.” I really love the red panda, which is on the endangered list.  There are only a couple of thousand left. I got to talk to her about them and the conservation work at the zoo.”

Bella and fellow GO scholar Jaiden French were the first students to co-mc a GO event, the 2019 Graduation Ceremony. “It was both a nerve-wracking and interesting experience, and Jaiden was a great support,” she says.  “My experience as a GO scholar, meeting other students and people with different life paths and stories, has been such an incredible opportunity.

“It’s given me a bigger understanding of my culture. My family is from the Stolen Generation, my Dad’s mum. Our country is in the far north of NSW, but we lost that connection to culture,” explains Bella.  “Since my father passed away last year, I’m re-establishing that connection with my cousins, and it’s really good.”

On Bella’s bucket list for university is the experience of living on campus to take advantage of everything uni offers. In the meantime, Bella hopes to be accepted for a summer internship at Sydney Water and is happily hanging out with her kelpies, Elijah and Tammy. “I’m not sure exactly what 2021 has in store,” she says. “What I do know about my future though is that I want to get my own story out there. I want to show people the real me. Leave nothing out.”